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THE SCHOOL REVIEW 

A JOURNAL OF SECONDARY EDUCATION 



VOLUME VI CppTCMDCTD ,O n p WHOLE 

number 7 ocr i .cavil} .civ, loyo NUMBER 57 



HOW TO MAKE THE STUDY OF LITERATURE 
INTERESTING 1 

Please understand from the outset that the question is not 
by any means, how to enforce the study of literature. Such a 
question would be, in reality, no question at all. Any teacher 
inured to the habit of demanding and securing obedience may 
require the reading of this and that, may examine in writing or 
orally, and may mark the quality of the answers. To such a 
procedure the college requirements in English offer special 
temptation. But the more enforcement, the less interest. The 
teacher who is debarred the privilege of choosing the thing that 
will interest, but is compelled to consult catalogues to see what 
he must put his classes through, is hampered from the start and 
is reduced to doing the best he can. 

This word interest was always in daily use in education, even 
before the study of Herbart came into vogue and gave to the 
conception of "many-sided interest " a fresh sanction. During 
the Herbart season we heard it perpetually. It was a term we 
could all understand, when much of the philosophy called Her- 
bartian beclouded and teased our minds. Perhaps this word did 
more to win adherents to this philosophy than any formal prin- 
ciple which the philosophy had to announce. But Herbartian- 
ism went out of vogue, had its day, like all the enthusiasms that 
lift us now and then above our normal level. 

1 Read before the Friends' Teachers' Association, in Philadelphia, February 5, 

1898. 

483 



484 THE SCHOOL REVIEW 

The scourge of the Herbartian philosophy was wielded by 
thinkers of other schools who charged it with failure to recog- 
nize the will. This reaction in favor of a system in which the 
will played a prominent part was caught by many who enter- 
tained it with an excess of zeal. Cultivation of the will being 
now the main thing, it followed that those studies which 
pupils least affect by nature are the ones through which they 
must most be pushed ; and even that those studies to which 
they are led by natural inclination must be brought under a 
methodic that should go counter to their mental grain. 

With the decline of the Herbartian pedagogy, declined also 
the general estimate of interest, both the idea and the school 
procedures to which it led. The old conception of Latin, Greek 
and mathematics as the great staple of juvenile discipline always 
comes to the front when the importance of the training of the 
will grows large in pedagogical theorizing. Nothing else equals 
these old disciplines in remoteness from all relation to actual 
life in church, society and state. No suspicion of utility can 
possibly vitiate their cultural value. The only forward looking 
to which they tempt the schoolboy is the prospect of examina- 
tion. No other drawings from without, no anticipations of 
pleasurable literary communings in the future, no wellings of 
love and wonder from within, interfere with the plain enforce- 
ment of scholastic line and rule. 

The classical preparatory teacher, if he thinks of his Latin 
and Greek texts as anything more than matter prescribed for 
examination, thinks of them as materials for training, and leaves 
it to the college professor to treat them as portions of literature. 
Old prepossessions and old superstitions always concede to 
Latin and Greek the primacy among the studies of a set course. 
These studies dominate ambitions, and become the determinants 
of scholarship. They offer their own method, as a ready-made 
article, to the modern elements with which the course has been 
enriched. Some of the modern elements, as, for instance, the 
mechanic arts, and, generally speaking, the banausic matters 
that will creep into education in spite of the contempt felt for 
them by the humanists, have so little relation to scholarship 



HOW TO MAKE THE STUDY OF LITERATURE INTERESTING 485 

pure and simple, that the classicists cannot come at them and 
show them how to proceed. But the modern languages are 
obviously akin to the ancient ; and so the preparatory French 
and German, in spite of Sauveur and the other devotees of nat- 
uralism, are still very much like preparatory Latin and Greek, 
and are taught with very much the same efficiency as regards 
mastery and insight. 

When English began to be important enough to place its 
name in programmes and to command respect as a branch of 
learning, English also was found fit for naturalization in the 
humanistic state. Thus it came to pass that English was 
brought within the generally prevalent conception of a disci- 
plinary gymnastic, and English literature came to be treated 
like the ancient literatures, rather with the view of sharpening 
critical wits than of awakening love and admiration. As ancient 
texts had to be annotated by the profoundest scholars before 
they could be imposed as tasks on juvenile minds, so modern 
texts are universally annotated, not because there is any inherent 
necessity that they should be so treated, but because we are all 
thoroughly used to annotation. 

Dependence on notes is a modern pedagogical vice, one of 
the sequelae of the great pedagogical disease of examinationism. 
No one, youth or adult, ever read with abandon, with relish, with 
eager curiosity, a book or a story or a poem plus a body of notes. 
A young person has to be made ready for an examination ; time 
is precious ; a definite allotment of reading must be accom- 
plished, and provision made for answering sundry questions. The 
situation is wholly unnatural and factitious. Nobody ever reads 
in this way except boys and girls under scholastic compulsion. 
Nobody ever remembers such reading with any emotion except 
horror. Fortunate the youth whom such procedures do not per- 
manently alienate from the pursuit of good literature ! 

Fitting for college in English literature introduces into the 
task of the English teacher insuperable difficulties. The greater 
mass of secondary pupils, who have no ambitions involving 
entrance examinations, offer us a free field. In the interests of 
these we may solve and elaborate our theories. Let us consider 



486 THE SCHOOL REVIEW 

how these pupils, not destined for examination, may profit best, 
during their years of adolescence, by the instruction we may 
give them in the literature of their native language. An attempt 
is making to unify the entire English work of the secondary 
schools by bringing it all within the forms of the college require- 
ments. These forms have the advantage of being clearly out- 
lined, being in fact mechanical prescriptions ; and the non-pre- 
paratory methods have the disadvantage that they are not at all 
a prescription imposed ab extra, but an evolution which is not, 
and never will be, final and complete, and which is perpetually 
evolving out of existing needs and conditions. I do not know 
that non-preparatory English teachers have ever appointed com- 
mittees to consider purely and simply, i. e., without taking any 
thought whatever for impending examinations, the real, vital 
questions of literature teaching. These questions teachers are 
left to solve each for himself. The condition is altogether nat- 
ural and wholesome. To level all English teaching under the 
college forms would tend to check investigation, to lessen the 
feeling of responsibility, to restrict freedom in adapting means 
to ends. The genuine teacher's desire is to order his work so as 
to produce in the largest possible measure genuine results of 
culture. The preparatory teacher's desire is to meet the demands 
of an examination. The incompatibility is irreconcilable. 

Let me be regarded as attempting to make a contribution to 
the pedagogy of English literature — to discuss its real, natural 
questions, not its artificial ones. 

The fundamental questions of the subject are of course, — 
what is literature, and why do we teach it in our schools. 

English literature we may briefly and provisionally define as 
that body of writings, couched in forms that please by virtue of 
beauty, grace, or strength, in which the race has expressed its 
religious, its emotional, and its intellectual vicissitudes. His- 
tory, in its narrower sense — for in its wider meaning it includes 
everything that has been said or done on this planet — records, 
sometimes in dry chronicle and sometimes in story touched with 
emotion, the institutional vicissitudes through which the race 
has passed, and explains how we came to be the nation that we 



HOW TO MAKE THE STUDY OF LITERATURE INTERESTING 487 

are, how we came to have the government under which we live, 
and the civilization that we enjoy. History has to include liter- 
ature and record its achievements ; but literature has its own 
standing for the reason that it acknowledges fealty to the imagi- 
nation, and seeks for beauty, while history is science, seeks for 
fact, and criticises speech as announcing what actually hap- 
pened. 

Now we shall agree that the ideal function of education, as 
distinguished from its utilitarian aims, is to bring the individual 
soul as fully as possible into intelligent relation with the life of 
the race. In truth, education may be well defined as the effort 
which each generation makes to qualify its successor to admin- 
ister the inheritance which this successor is about to receive. 
The really great and unanswerable argument for the study of 
Latin and Greek is not the argument of mental discipline — for 
disciplinary materials are numerous — but the consideration of 
the historical value of these languages as reflecting an important 
stage in the development of humanity. Every self-respecting 
man is interested in his ancestors. He treasures heirlooms. He 
is eager to know what sort of men and women his progenitors 
were. He asks about their employments, their houses, their 
religion, their education. He attends the church which his 
ancestors founded, and never becomes so much an agnostic as 
not to honor the Bible which they believed. As he reads the 
old Bible, so he reads also the old books in which his ancestors 
found their solace, their amusement — on which they trained 
their minds for argument on affairs of church and state — in 
which they found satisfaction of their love of beauty. We can- 
not easily fill our houses with the dear old bric-a-brac. But the 
old books, ever old, are also ever new, and are always with us. 
The generous-minded youth, whose education has not been in 
vain, applies his first earnings to the purchase of a Shakespeare, 
a Milton, a Pope, a Johnson, a Cowper, a Wordsworth. The 
spiritual traits of his forefathers were determined very largely 
by these writers, and the strain has been transmitted to him. 
He was born a lover of his native classics. It is for education 
to develop this noble strain. Where these ancestral influences 



488 THE SCHOOL REVIEW 

do not exist at all, the task of education is more elementary and 
more difficult, but by no means is it hopeless. 

If, therefore, you go with me in thus viewing literature as 
the main link that binds the present spiritually with the past ; 
and if you accept the thesis that education chiefly aims to unfold 
in the individual the consciousness of his relations to all human- 
ity and to all human achievements, you perceive at once the 
kind of purpose with which literature must be taught. Surely 
it must not be taught as those things are from which youth are 
glad to be forever emancipated when school days are over. 
Surely it must not be made a task of memory, a procedure which 
guarantees with absolute certainty that it shall not be remem- 
bered. It must not be taught as an opportunity for criticism, to 
illustrate rhetoric or to develop mental acumen. The teacher's 
purpose in literature must ever be to awaken love for his subject, 
to make the study pleasing and memorable, to plant seeds of 
good desires in soil which he has made good by wise husbandry. 

Grant this principle as fundamental to the teaching of litera- 
ture, and we see at once how it affects certain methods deeply 
imbedded in the pedagogic consciousness. In the first place, it 
prohibits formal examinations. Observe, I say, formal examina- 
tions; by which expression I mean examinations simultaneous 
and identical for masses of pupils, and intended to determine 
class rank, or perhaps promotion from class to class. Such 
examinations as these are inconsistent with real, spontaneous 
interest in any subject. Examination in the large sense — not 
the scholastic, technical one — is, of course, a main function of 
all teaching. Every pupil speaks and writes, furnishing thereby 
uncounted indications of his mental state. These the teacher 
perpetually notes. He watches for signs of lassitude, of 
flagging interest. He seeks to know something of the pupil's 
domestic environment, of his mental and physical habits. He 
comes to know the pupil so well that he cannot possibly come to 
know him better by the formality of a set examination. 

But if anyone claims utility for the formal examination on the 
ground that it spurs the pupil to effort, I answer that the effort 
to which such examination stirs the pupil is merely an effort to 



HOW TO MAKE THE STUDY OF LITERATURE INTERESTING 489 

remember points, few in number, for a limited time, and that this 
time once passed, oblivion and neglect at once supervene, by a 
reaction as violent as the preceding strain has been intense. I am 
impressed more and more by this psychical fact, as I observe the 
work of schools and colleges that bend their energies to the 
maintenance of a rigid system of examinations. Action and 
reaction are equal. The tension of mind caused by the approach 
of the examination time is suddenly loosed when the examina- 
tion is over and the marks are made known. Then follows the 
reaction, which, of course, is indifference ; and indifference, the 
acedia of the seven deadly sins of the mediaeval church, being 
mere deadness, has no natural and necessary reaction, but abides 
and enters into the character, killing aspiration, zeal, faith. I am 
not theorizing. Not to connect with their methods the indiffer- 
ence so notably characteristic of certain institutions of the 
higher education is impossible. This indifference is not natural 
to youth ; it would seem indeed to be a vice that should find its 
victims among the old, the sluggish-minded, who know the van- 
ity of human hopes, and look cynically upon young men's ambi- 
tions. But a regime of examinations is capable of engendering 
it even in pubescent youth, elastic as we know the spirits of 
youth to be, unquenchable as seems to us the fire of youthful 
hope. 

Hence I say, omit the formal examination from the scheme 
of work in literature ; and having thus cleared the ground for 
reasonable procedures, plan such methods as shall enlist the 
pupil's volition by stirring his emotional nature and making his 
reading of books and his learning about writers a pleasure and a 
recreation. We must remember, as a fact of primary importance 
to our planning, that every poet, every writer of essay, sermon, 
tract, or story, wrote for the purpose of pleasing, or instructing, 
or persuading his generation. Writings continue to be read, are 
read because they still continue to please, to instruct, to per- 
suade. Therefore we have no right to thwart the great intent of 
literature by causing it to do anything else than that which its 
writers meant it should do. Above all things, we must make the 
study of literature pleasing ; and literature that we cannot make 



49° THE SCHOOL REVIEW 

pleasing, either because of defects in our taste or knowledge, or 
because of our pupil's immaturity, we must let alone. 

But in considering whether a masterpiece of literature is 
within our pupil's power of appreciation, we are apt to make a 
iatal mistake. The old demon of thoroughness lays his hand 
on us, and forthwith we expect the pupil to learn about a piece 
everything that can be known, to analyze it, paraphrase it, and, 
if it is verse, to prose it and make it ugly. No naif reader ever 
analyzes or paraphrases ; and children, even in secondary 
schools, are naif readers. The natural recalcitrancy of their 
minds, for which they are not responsible, against analysis of 
beautiful and impressive wholes, makes them, to an unskillful 
pedagogy, seem culpably ignorant and delinquent. Many a 
child has picked up in the home library a Shakespeare, a Milton, 
a Bunyan, and has become absorbed with admiration, and, I will 
say, with appreciation, of the great literature. These children, 
you must observe, had no recitations to prepare for. Many 
things they did not understand. A naif reader slides over such 
things with perfect ease, and not understanding them at first, 
comes to understand them at last, in the natural way, finding 
them in situ, and then finding them again and again. A student 
of Latin or Greek is spurred by his teacher to leave no minutest 
point unmastered. Therefore we find even bright youth looking 
up the same word fifty times. If our aim is to get up portions 
of text so as to answer questions of detail, whether verbal, or 
grammatical, or rhetorical, of course the great classics are 
immensely difficult, and far beyond the reach of children ; but 
if our aim is simply to have the classic texts read with feeling, 
then, at least in selection, no epic or drama or lyric is forbidden 
our choice. Only extensive reading of good literature brings 
any person acquainted with the literary forms, the literary dic- 
tion, the literary allusions, the references to history. Nothing 
is learned from notes in such sort as to become a permanent 
possession. A note usually tides over the immediate difficulty, 
and will have to be repeated when the same difficulty occurs a 
second time ; but a difficulty occurring a second, a third time, 
often ceases to be a difficulty. The note was otiose. It enabled 



HOW TO MAKE THE STUDY OF LITERATURE INTERESTING 49 1 

the teacher to ask a pointed question and expect a pointed 
answer. But this was of no value. We must learn to let pupils 
mull over things. The young reader is again and again delighted 
and exultant to find today's reading explained by the reading of 
yesterday, of last week, last month, last year. A note telling 
him of the delicious associations that old classical scholars find 
in Milton, with Homer, with Virgil, with Dante does him no 
good. He has no business with any associations but his own ; 
and even the child of ten years has literary associations of his 
own. Mother Goose and the fairy tales are perpetually recurring. 
Robinson Crusoe, the man Friday, the footprint on the shore still 
point many a moral and adorn many a tale. 

The first duty of the teacher of literature is, therefore, to see 
that his pupils have abundant opportunities to read good books. 
Reading must begin early and must never cease. There is no 
central theory or doctrine of literature that may be mastered in 
a year or a term of a school course. The essential thing to aim 
at is the acquisition of a store of memorable reading. The 
teacher must know what the good books are, and must perpetu- 
ally watch to assure himself that the books he recommends are 
really taking vital hold on minds. The danger to be dreaded is 
that reading grow perfunctory, a task done to please the 
teacher, not spontaneous, not impelled by inner motive. The 
teacher advises, stimulates, questions in the conversational man- 
ner, reproves in private, dissuades, allows for the languors and 
fallow times of nature, never marks, never scolds. This is a 
business that cannot be gauged and measured. 

You will have perceived that what 1 have said implies out- 
of-school reading rather than the collective or gregarious reading 
that can be done in the class room. The class reading has its 
due function, as we shall presently see. But the cumulative, 
fruitful reading that brings gradual familiarity with great writings 
must be silent reading, done by each pupil for himself, in the 
solitude of the study-room or by the domestic hearth. As 
I contemplate the teacher as a literary mentor, I have, of 
course, to think of him, or her, as a person who knows books, 
and whose taste has been cultivated by familiarity with the best 



49 2 THE SCHOOL REVIEW 

I contemplate also easy access to books — a condition which the 
modern world is coming to realize. The literature teacher, gain- 
ing experience, will gradually come to know good books, good 
extracts, good poems. He will learn how to excerpt strong and 
pithy passages. He will not recommend the unabridged volume 
of Wordsworth, but will know what poems to recommend by 
title. He will not put into his pupil's hands a volume of New- 
man's sermons, but will direct attention to some one sermon, or 
to two. Thus the literature teacher must, step by step, make 
his own anthology. He becomes valuable just in proportion to 
the wisdom, the taste, the honesty of purpose, which he puts 
into the building up of his collection. He will have struck out 
of it any book, however dear to himself, that he finds has not, 
among his pupils, .year after year, a genuine constituency ; or he 
will keep it in reserve against the happy time when some Sunday 
child shall appear in his flock, bringing, perhaps from a home 
of culture, a larger readiness of appreciation of the good things 
of literature. 

I insist on this — that the teacher wields a far greater influ 
ence as adviser than he possibly can as mere drillmaster. It 
happens sometimes that a boy or girl has found an adviser, and 
is reading largely quite without relation to the school and its 
doings. But it is right to assume that, unless the teacher 
advises, the average youth will read quite at random, and will 
be attracted by taking titles. What have you read ?. what are 
you reading now ? what book, of all you have read, do you like 
best ? why did you not like this or that ? These questions are 
of course asked in private. They constitute the veritable exam- 
ination in literature. The answers to them reveal the workings 
of minds, the development of tastes. The answers given in the 
technical examinations reveal nothing but the data remembered 
up to that time. The private questions give you the basis for 
further reasonable procedures. The technical questions give 
you the basis for marks — marks, the bane of our school prac- 
tice. 

On no account will you adopt the ascetic notion that a book 
once begun must be read through to the end, or must be finished 



HOW TO MAKE THE STUDY OF LITERATURE INTERESTING 493 

at once, before anything else is begun. An author who does 
not hold his reader by his own power of interesting has no busi- 
ness to insist that readers shall stick to him by an effort of their 
will. All reading done from a sense of duty, without the par- 
ticipation of the emotions, is for a child worthless. The mature 
student of literature conceives that he must, for purposes of 
scholarship, read his Goldsmith, his Scott, his Johnson, his 
Wordsworth entire ; but for the juvenile student of literature our 
sole function is to secure that he have lasting memories that 
are pleasing and a fair modicum of knowledge of Goldsmith, of 
Scott, of Johnson, of Wordsworth. 

I cannot, of course, leave this part of my subject without a 
word as to the reading of fiction. Let us note that all our 
poetic literature is fiction, from Chaucer to Tennyson. Plato, 
you know, objected to poetry in the education of youth for the 
reason that it is fiction. But the world has never given heed to 
Plato in this matter, as indeed it could not, human nature being 
what it is. The Italian De Gubernatis recently prepared an 
edition of the Divine Comedy for his son, a child of twelve. I 
wish I had space to quote to you his preface, addressed to this 
little boy. De Gubernatis appears to us to have done nothing 
strange in setting his son to the reading of Dante. Plato is the 
one whose educational philosophy seems strange. The Greek 
child was brought up on Homer. Every well-born Anglo- 
Saxon child knows his Romeo and Juliet, his Shylock and 
Portia. The Italians at work on our railroads are said to recog- 
nize with joy when they hear it the Dantean verse. The poets 
of every race have sunk deep into the consciousness of the peo- 
ple. No other secular influence is comparable to that of the 
old poets. This is simply a fact of human nature ; we must 
make our account with it as teachers of literature. 

Today's poetry seems trivial. The natural eagerness of 
humanity to idealize life with something better than the actual 
facts has broken away from the trammels of verse, and has 
adopted the easier vehicle of prose. We are immersed in a sea 
of novels ; we are a generation of novel readers. No student or 
teacher of literature can ignore this momentous fact of modern 



494 THE SCHOOL REVIEW 

life. Emerson, you know, read his Plato clandestinely, under 
his desk at school. But the average boy or girl today will read 
a story. To all ages the attraction of stories is irresistible. 
Every child will get at stories somehow. Macaulay tells us 
how the Catholic church uses for its advantage those primal and 
ineradicable impulses of humanity which the sects, to their 
detriment, insist on trying to repress. So must we to the 
aggrandizement of our influence, use and guide the novel- 
reading tendency, accepting as an ultimate psychic truth the 
principle that the appetite for fiction is natural, and that, con- 
sequently, its satisfaction in due measure is reasonable. Because 
I read the fiction of Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, shall I reprove 
my girls for reading the fiction of Ben Hur ? Myself a novel 
reader of the very poorest sort, I observe with interest that my 
brethren and sisters in the English-teaching corps, are by no 
means all such as I, and so I gladly leave to them to tell me 
what recent fiction to put in the index expurgatorius, and what 
into my anthology. My principle is, to guide, not to forbid ; to 
dissuade from novel reading, not by condemnation, but by per- 
suading to better things. 

Certain portions of literature are of special value in education 
for the reason that they are basic, that they explain a great 
many things in later literature. Shakespeare's phrase percolates 
through all subsequent writing. So does that of Milton, of 
Pope, of Gray, of Burns. Familiarity with Shakespeare and 
Bacon is a good education in literature. Boswell's Life of John- 
son is one of the great text-books of literature. Macaulay, who 
had read everything, seems to have had the art of remembering 
everything he had read. Hence his essays have a great stimu- 
lating, provoking power, and form another great text-book of 
literature. The modern manuals are useful only so far as they 
beget desire to go to originals. A communicated fact or 
opinion about Dryden or Swift is of no use to a youth who 
gets therefrom no incentive to look up Dryden and Swift. 
Modern essayists have taken with zeal to writing about the old 
authors, and some of this writing is excellent as criticism. But 
the knowledge which criticism imparts to a young student is 



HOW TO MAKE THE STUDY OF LITERATURE INTERESTING 495 

necessarily second-hand knowledge, and had better be left 
alone. 

But what are we to do with literature in the class hour — 
the hour, as it is usually called, of recitation ? Here we have a 
considerable group of pupils, to all of whom we must speak at 
once, or, if we speak to one, it must be in the hearing of all. 
The opportunity is here presented for telling interesting facts of 
literature, for setting forth something of the lives of the writers, 
for arranging them chronologically, for placing them in their 
historical setting, for telling what anecdotes we know about 
them, for reading the beautiful tributes paid by the later writers 
to the older ones — for doing anything, in short, that shall 
glorify and exalt the makers of our literature. If this sounds 
like recommending the practice of lecturing, please understand 
that formal lecturing is far from my thought. The teacher must 
speak from a full mind, in the conversational tone. Above all 
things, he must not exact attention. Pupils are docile, and if 
you say, pay attention, they will take the attentive attitude ; but 
the attention they seem to give is only a sham. No child can 
give real attention in response to a demand for it ; no child can 
withhold attention when his curiosity is roused. If you cannot 
rouse his curiosity, you can get from him only a simulacrum of 
attention. The young men and women who give evenings to 
the clubs of needy, uncared-for boys and girls gathered in the 
college settlements in the large cities, soon learn what attention 
is and how it is to be secured. The boys brought in from the 
streets are not docile ; they give no sham attention. They bring 
in with them all their fierce turbulance and coarse insolence. 
Call imperiously for attention, and you are laughed at. But 
they can be caught, though it puts the young gentlemen and 
ladies to their wit's end to accomplish this result. The simple 
fact is, they must be interested, or the college settlement is at 
once unsettled. Every teacher should take a course of college- 
settlement work, for teaching here has to be done on the bed- 
rock of reality. The spurious attention which the child habitu- 
ated to school gives when his mind remains listless and wander- 
ing looks so orderly and quiet that it is often accepted by 



49 6 THE SCHOOL REVIEW 

untrained school officials as a satisfactory state of things. An 
ancient time when pupils contended with their teachers for the 
mastery, and when he was the successful teacher who kept the 
school still, bequeaths to us this immense respect for bare order, 
uniformity of movement, the outward show of control. Under- 
stand, I do not speak disrespectfully of external order; and 
understand also that this orderliness is not teaching, but only 
the groundwork, the preparation for teaching. The really 
interesting thing to look for in a school is the teaching ; the 
order may be presupposed. 

Now, the best way for the teacher to communicate to his 
pupils the lore of literature is to do it in the conversational 
way. I am constantly surprised to see teachers assigning lessons 
from a manual — a procedure which seems to aim at quelling 
curiosity in advance. A melancholy spectacle to me is an array 
of identically prepared pupils, each of whom is to deliver to all 
the rest what they all know already. Why not let the entire 
class come expectant and curious? Who will give me the 
philosophical justification of a method that frowns upon curi- 
osity ? You must be very exacting, not upon your pupils, but 
upon yourself. When attention flags, you must change your 
tactics. You must be full of resources. One excellent thing 
you may do is to read to the class something that will be good 
for them to hear. 

And now arises the question : Can you read with expression ? 
The first condition of success in literature teaching is that the 
teacher know his subject intimately and be ever engaged in 
coming to know it better ; but the second condition is quite as 
cogent ; it is that the literature teacher have a trained voice, 
capable of modulation, and an understanding of the wonderful 
possibilities that lie within the compass of the reader's art. The 
teacher who can read effectively has it in his power to recom- 
mend beautiful literature by simple reading. His advice will be 
supplemented by his example. In truth, his example will be 
far more persuasive than his exhortation. All important is it 
that young persons grow up with a love of good books, of the 
great poetry of the race. Let them enjoy that purest of sen- 



HOW TO MAKE THE STUDY OF LITERATURE INTERESTING 497 

suous pleasures — that pleasure which is indeed the gratification 
of a sense, but which, of all such gratifications, is the most 
mingled with spiritual elements, the delight of listening to speech 
that interprets their best thoughts and enkindles their highest 
emotions. Through the ear the soul is reached by the gentle 
influences that soften obdurate natures and make them suscepti- 
ble of the admonitions of religion. 

The bantling among the objects of scholastic training is the 
speaking voice. We neglect the culture of vocal expression, and 
we neglect the culture of the ear. We make neither effective 
readers nor appreciative listeners. We give our energies to com- 
position, to the correct management of the pen, as if the pen 
were the great and fundamental organ of utterance. The reason 
of this anomaly is, of course, that pen-work is examinable, goes 
on record, can be lithographed and shown in limitless copies. 
Students can read aloud, but one at a time, and the critics must 
all be present at the moment. If only some Harvard committee 
on English would set up a phonograph and let the young gentle- 
men read into it ! This would give us a far better conception 
of the collegiate taste, the collegiate appreciation of literature, 
than can possibly be afforded by written exercises. The truth 
is, the voice in reading is the only absolute gauge of culture. 
The singing voice reveals but little of the contents of minds. 
Various singers of the same song make pretty much the same 
impression ; or, if they vary in their performance, it is mostly in 
technique, in matters appreciable only by trained judges ; the sing- 
ers make no revelation of intelligence, sympathy, appreciation. 
Various readers of the song, on the other hand, make as many 
different impressions. Technique now becomes quite subordi- 
nate. The sympathetic reader has a sympathetic way of read- 
ing. Coldness towards a piece of poetry cannot possibly 
disguise itself in the act of reading ; nor can warmth of feeling 
either disguise itself there. The voice is a perfect index to the 
mental attitude of the reader towards the piece he reads. If he 
consciously or unconsciously reads for effect, his voice bewrays 
him. If he attempts a flight beyond his intelligence, here, too, 
his voice utterly gives him away. You cannot conceive a flat, 



498 THE SCHOOL REVIEW 

unraised spirit delivering with due elevation the prologues of 
Henry V. No more can a shallow, untrained mind express the 
delicate humor of Addison, or Goldsmith, or Irving. When you 
have talked with a youth, and heard him read, the ceremony of 
written examination in literature becomes idle. 

Of course I am to be understood as leaving out of the account 
the timbre of the voice-^— a thing too personal, too racial, too 
organic, to be much under the control of the individual — and 
also the vocal bewilderments that belong to the period of 
puberty. What I wish to affirm is that in vocal culture the 
range of the will is much greater than is usually believed, and 
that a wisely ordered education will bethink itself of the truth 
that here is a genuinely cultivable province of the spiritual nature 
which must not be left unfilled. I cannot conceive a good 
teacher of literature who does not try his best to read well and 
to inspire his pupils also with a desire to read well. 

All beautiful literature depends for its beauty as much upon 
its form as upon its content. Noble conceptions set forth in 
impressive phrase, idealized by the mystery of rhythm and meas- 
ure, this it is that constitutes great and memorable literature. 
And the arbiter of literary form is solely the ear. The primeval 
poets thought of man as a listener. The listening ear caught 
the cadence, the artistic succession of longs and shorts, the 
swing and lilt of the verse. The modern man reads with his eye, 
needing the intervention of no rhapsode. But consider that the 
silent reader, with his inner ear, ever listens. The cultivated 
reader enjoys the melody of verse as much as if he had an inter- 
preter to speak with audible voice to his sense. It is impossible 
to read verse with the eye, with the intellect, alone : the inner 
ear listens to its movement, and perceives how it sounds. The 
great, the lasting, the impressive quality of verse is settled by 
the verdict of the ear. As we cannot close the organ of hearing 
to the sounds of the external world, so we cannot close the inner 
ear to the rhythmic harmonies of language that we read in silence 
with the eye. He only can love literature to whom it sounds 
beautiful. 

As teachers, therefore, we must aim to train the ear. We 



HOW TO MAKE THE STUDY OF LITERATURE INTERESTING 499 

must secure our pupils against the danger of scanning " with 
Midas' ears, committing short and long." Peculiarly maladroit, 
lamentably ill-educated is he who reads verse as prose, thinking 
solely of the syntax. If our youth are to acquire respect for 
English literature, they must be accustomed to hearing it well 
pronounced; they must have acquired an ear *for fine hearing 
and a voice for fine speaking. We must seek to train their ear 
by addressing it again and again in tones that by their just modu- 
lations shall render and interpret the beauty, the nobility, of 
the great literature. Quite simply, we must be good readers and 
know how to make good readers. 

Let me say, in conclusion, that apart from the negations on 
which I have insisted, the secret of success in teaching literature 
depends, first, on the possession of a considerable acquaintance 
with literature, and, secondly, on the ability to render the great 
passages lovingly and impressively with the voice. Both intel- 
lectually and aesthetically, the teacher must be an accomplished 
person. 

Samuel Thurber